The Beast Of The Bridge: Chelsea Finally Have The Cult Hero They've Been Waiting For
The biggest cheer on Saturday afternoon came on the 80th minute. Chelsea had already gone 2-0 up against newly promoted Leicester City and looked on track to secure six points from their first two games. The cheer didn’t greet Eden Hazard’s goal though. Even more surprising was that the cheer wasn’t predominantly to welcome the biggest Chelsea hero of them all onto the pitch, as Dider Drogba prepared to come on for Chelsea for the first time since he won them the Champions League title from the penalty spot in Munich. No. The home fans were providing a standing ovation for their new hero as much as welcoming back their old one. As Diego Costa made way for Didier Drogba it was old replacing new, and the adoration for both showed an appreciation for the past and future of the club.
It is early days for the Spain striker’s career at Stamford Bridge in terms of filling the sizeable goalscoring boots of Drogba, and no one is suggesting that his strong start (two in two Premier League games and four in pre-season) shouldn’t be taken without a pinch of salt. What Costa does bring is enough character, fire and hope to fill the void. Chelsea fans have lacked hope in their strikers for years now. Stung by misfire after misfire, culminating in the utter disaster that has been Fernando Torres’ Chelsea career.
As I have already said Costa doesn’t fit as snugly into the mould of Drogba as many had suggested. He doesn’t have the aerial presence and doesn’t love to hold up the ball. He likes the ball into feet, where he is adept at bringing others into play with his back to goal, and his technical ability has taken many by surprise. He is a powerful runner, deceptively quick, and is stocky enough to make defenders bounce off him. His finishing has looked ruthless, even if it is lacking in finesse. Sixteen of his 27 league goals at Madrid came from within ten yards, and it is this sort of polished finisher Chelsea has lacked.
The need for more “balls” was identified by Mourinho at the back end of Chelsea’s disappointing last season (by their standards, at least), and Costa brings a brass pair. Chelsea knew all about it from when the they clashed with Costa’s Atletico Madrid in the Champions League semi-final last year, when they witnessed Costa confront their own hard-man John Terry with a complete lack of intimidation. Terry told the Independent recently: “Myself and [Gary Cahill] gave him some grief at Atletico away but he stood up to us and he fancied it. He has got that to his game but, the other side of his game, we will all be surprised at just how good he is." Costa was even seen battling opponents on and off the ball during pre-season. He doesn’t have an off switch, and it is this competitive drive that Mourinho so reveres.
Chelsea fans will also enjoy what can be interpreted as a down to earth nature from the striker that was born in the small Brazilian town of Lagarto. Certainly the frontman seems to draw a solid line between his on and off the field persona. Former fan-favorite Juan Mata was loved for his laid back attitude, displayed so easily by his sightseeing trips around the city, documented in his own blog. Despite speaking little to no English, Costa seems to have settled into the Chelsea dressing room quickly, as this video of him laughing and joking with Eden Hazard suggests.
An hour or so after the final whistle blew on Saturday I had a quick pint with my brother before he headed off to Imperial Wharf station. Twenty minutes later I received a selfie of my brother with Costa as he caught him headed into the Tesco near the station. Apparently Chelsea don’t have an intern that can pop out and grab him a post-game Snickers, or he just fancied the fresh air. I mean, look at that photo, he looks so happy to be there, oblivious almost. Oh and he looks at least 35, but that's by the by. The sight of Chelsea’s £32 million front-man at a local cashpoint may just kickstart the narrative that this beast on the pitch can leave his fiery reputation in the stadium. And this is exactly the sort of character the club needs in the post-Drogba era. Now all he has to do is keep scoring.